THATTEKAD

Prelude:

The forest inspection bungalow sat in quietude amid jackfruit, mango and mahogany trees. Insects hovered around in plenty; encircling under the tube-light and crawling on the walls and the white marble floor. I stepped out on the porch and sauntered around with my cup of piping-hot instant coffee. The air was still and sultry, yet pleasant. Thattekad, illuminated by a pale moon looked both lovely and creepy at the same time. Under the flash of our swaying torchlights, we walked to the other side of the road into the sanctuary towards Girish’s homestay.

Girish and the Malabar Gliding frogs: 

After reading a few blogs that spoke highly about his birding expertise I had cherry-picked Girish from the handful of guides at Thattekkad. Girish’s family comprised of his wife, two kids, his mother Sudha and his 90 year old grand-mom. A lawyer by profession, he was a cheerful man in his forties. Thattekad being his birthplace, he had developed a keen interest in birding since childhood. Sudha, a soft spoken and energetic lady, was a bird enthusiast too! Interesting conversations unfolded around Thattekad and its ecosystem. Girish’s home, painted in electric blue, nestled cozily in the forest canopy.  An army of Malabar frogs dwelling in his courtyard had taken me by complete surprise! With their smooth and vivid green body, yellow feet and bulgy yellow eyes, they looked like characters out of a fairy tale. Gliding frogs are tree frogs that can make gliding jumps of upto 12 meters, approximately 100 times their length. This rare specie is found only in the Western Ghats.

IMG_20180427_212828-1malabar gliding frog 1

Malabar Gliding frog-Mobile click

Urulathanni : 

Seven kilometres away from the main sanctuary, Urulathanni was waking up to a cloudy and drizzly morning. Such a weather in the mid of May was both unexpected and disappointing. To our luck, it cleared off sooner than anticipated. Traversing through teak and rubber plantations, we reached a flat rocky patch, ahead of which, a moderately elevated climb led us to a clearing that presented a panoramic view of the forest and the mountains surrounding Thattekad. A small tribal hut stood towards one end. Girish mentioned that the hut was in the elephant and leopard crossing zone, but the small tribal family of four along with their dog, were well adapted to the lurking dangers. We glanced around and realised that this stretch was bustling  with flower-peckers, minivets, starlings, hill mynas, parakeets, sunbirds, drongos, hornbills and others flew in plenty. The sun was up and the birds we active already. Girish sped like a superfast train, spotting and identifying birds by their flight and calls, while I struggled to keep up with his pace. The hyper-activeness of the birds and the considerable distance from them made focusing almost impossible. I toggled frustratingly between mounting my beast-like lens on the tripod and hand-holding it. As the morning sun became harsher, humidity started taking a toll. I hadn’t clicked a single good image, except that of a giant butterfly and a bug! Eventually, when the heat became unbearable, we started to descend into the lower terrain. It had been a frustrating and ugly start!

_B8A2269-1giant butterfly

The Srilanka Frogmouth

‘I can’t see them’ I uttered in an anxious, but hushed voice. ‘Go closer, be careful not to touch or shake the branch though’, instructed Girish. I inched further towards the bunch of dried leaves of a slim tree that stood amid hundred other identical trees. I noticed a withered leaf gently ruffle for a  split-second. I found the pair of Srilaka Frogmouths roosting on a fragile branch; one of which had acted like a dead leaf dangling in the wind! They duo was glued to each other, absolutely motionless and so perfectly camouflaged, that if not for Girish, I would have never been able to locate them, even at such close proximity. Srilanka Frogmouth is one of the tougher birds to spot due to its plumage that resembles dried leaves. More so, these are nocturnal and usually perch at the same spot for long hours with slight or no movement. Its elongated eyes, wide bill with moustache and frog-like face renders it both beautiful and weird-looking at the same time! We encountered more frogmouths at considerable distances from each other later on the trail. It wasn’t surprising that we bumped into all of them at the exact same spots over the next couple of days.

_B8A2371-1Srilanka frogmouth side close up_

Srilanka Frogmouth stretches its neck when alert

_B8A2327-1Srilanka frogmouth pair 3

Srilanka Frogmouth pair- the female is rufous and the male is slightly grey in color.

The mysterious hooter and the Jerdon’s Nightjar

Noon was well-spent near a placid lake which had a colony of bee-eaters and swallows As the sun began to set, we were back into the forests to hunt down the Jerdon’s Nightjar. However, our attention was diverted to a loud and mystical ‘wooooh-woooh-wooooh’ that echoed from a distance. “I think its a Spot-bellied Eagle Owl, but I am not sure!”, Girish exclaimed overwhelmingly. We hastened through the bushes and thorny shrubs, in the direction of the hooting. Each time we felt like we were getting closer, the owl would pause for a few minutes and then hoot again, but farther away. This hide and seek continued for sometime, until we eventually gave up! It was high time we headed back for the nightjar. Girish brought us back to a small expanse, not too far away from the road. He started playing the nightjar’s call on his phone repeatedly. Drawing our attention towards two bare branches of a bush nearby, he confidently implied, “It would fly around here anytime now and sit on either of these branches for a few seconds; be ready”. And as though Girish had some premonition, a beautiful Jerdon’s Nightjar perched exactly on the branch that Girish had pointed out. Its plumage was in shades of black, brown and white and it had deep black eyes. It sat for less than thirty seconds before disappearing into the woods. This was too good to be real!

_B8A2613-1jerdons nightjar

Jerdon’s Nightjar. Pic Credits : Mihir Vilekar

Tracking down the Trogons

A faint and short ‘eaw eaw’ lead us offtrack and down a gentle slope to the base of the jungle with a brook running through it. Here, the ground was moist and laden with leeches. Albeit my efforts and repeated pleas from my husband, I just couldn’t pull my attention off the blood suckers and in the bargain, we lost track of the Trogon. I looked down to pull away from the cursing look on his face, only to find that three leeches had already crawled up my left foot, despite all the drama I had put up. We continued walking off-road for a few meters and connected to the-mud trail in no time. My face lit up as we chanced upon a beautiful pair of pruning Trogons just 10 feet away! The male was handsome, with a bright crimson front, black head and white color. The female had a chrome yellow chest while the head and collar were brown. Malabar Trogons are resident birds of the Western Ghats. Due to their shy nature, they are usually found in thick canopies. Even with  such striking colors, they blend well with their surroundings since their backs are camouflaged! For me, these were no less than the birds of paradise.

Malabar trogon male front

A vibrant male Malabar Trogon

Hornbill Best

A Malabar Grey Hornbill with its juvenile

Salim Ali bird trail

On the last day, we explored the Salim Ali trail inside the Thattekad sanctuary with Sudha. Apart from a jungle owlet, a few malabar parakeets we did not sight anything much. A stunt watch tower inside the forest threw some scenic views. Further ahead, we reached a pond skirted with dense growth of bamboo beyond which the trail opened up into a long and narrow path with thicket of tall trees on either sides. Drongos and woodpeckers wandered in abundance. A pair of white-bellied treepies with never-ending tails, looked majestic when they flew from tree to tree.  These again, can only be found in Western Ghats. 

White bellied treepie 2

White Bellied Treepie. Pic credit : Mihir Vilekar

With the last bird on my wish-list ticked off, it was time to leave. An unexpected overcast took over Thattekad, vanquishing the intolerable airlessness with soothing whiffs of cool winds. We drove past the area where had head the enigmatic hoots the previous evening. From deep within the woods, the uncanny ‘wooooooh-woooooh-woooooh’ echoed, piercing the silence of the jungle. The mysterious owl though, had made up its mind to maintain its inconspicuousness.

drongo cuckoo

The rare, Drone Cuckoo

Greater racket tailed drongo

Greater Racket tailed Drone

_MG_0178-2-1orange headed thrush

Orange-headed thrush

Malabar giant squirrel

Malabar Giant Squirrel

About Thattekad: Thattekad is a dense evergreen forest situated approximately 65 kms to the east of Cochin in Kerala. More commonly referred to as The Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, it is considered to have the richest bird habitat in the peninsular region of India with close to 280 reported species(resident and migratory). In the local dialect, Thattekad translates into ‘Thatte- plate’ and ‘Kad-forest’. The topography of Thattekad comprises of flat rocks and hence the name. Also, the pristine Periyar river branches into and cuts through the sanctuary. Few rare birds endemic to western ghats can be found here. Urulathanni is the richest in terms of bird species and population, in my personal opinion.

Best time to Visit : Oct through March. To skip the crowd of birdwatchers, one may visit in April, though most migrant birds return from Thattekad by then but resident birds can be sighted in plenty.

How to reach :

By Air : The nearest airport is Cochin. Private taxis could be booked to reach Thattekad.

By Rail : Aluva is the closest station. Hire a private taxis or take a bus hereon

By bus : Overnight bus from Bangalore to Koothuparamba- local bus to Kothamanagalam- local bus to Thattekad.

Where to stay : You can choose to stay in Girish’s homestay. If you are on a budget, try the Forest Inspection bungalow. In both cases, advance booking is strongly recommended. Alternatively, one can stay in Kothamangalam. For Forest IB contact Mani @ 8547603174

Where to eat : the nearest eatery joint is 3 kms away. Thattekad is mostly rural, hence no big hotels in the vicinity. Kothamangalam is a slightly bigger town, 12 kms away.

Guide info : Girish @ 9847034520.

Essentials : A good telephoto lens above 500mm, tripod, binoculars, sunscreen, light, camouflaging clothes, cap, 2 litres of water, umbrella ( it may rain post March), leech socks (if visiting pre/post monsoons)

_B8A2142-1Periyar sunset 3

A serene sunset on river Periyar that cuts through Thattekad

My list of identified and photographed birds species at Thattekad: 66. For a pictorial tour, click here : Birds of Thattekad

  1. Srilanka Frogmouth -male and female
  2. Malabar Trogon Male- male and female
  3. Jerdon’s Nightjar
  4. White-bellied Treepie
  5. Malabar Grey Hornbill
  6. Rufous Treepie
  7. Vernal Hanging Parakeet
  8. Malabar Parakeet
  9. Red Whiskered Bulbul
  10. Red Vented Bulbul
  11. Yellow Browed Bulbul
  12. Flame Throated Bulbul
  13. Greater Racket-tailed Drongo
  14. Lesser Racket-tailed Drongo
  15. Black Drongo
  16. Drongo Cuckoo
  17. Streak-throated Woodpecker
  18. Yellow-crowned Woodpecker
  19. Lesser Yellow Naped Woodpecker
  20. Lesser Goldenback Woodpecker
  21. Heart-spotted Woodpecker
  22. Bar-winged Flycatcher
  23. White-bellied Blue Flycatcher
  24. Little Cormorant
  25. Little Egret
  26. Great Egret
  27. Darter
  28. River Tern
  29. Spot-billed Pelican
  30. Cotton Pygmy Goose
  31. Bronze-winged Jacana
  32. Lesser Whistling Ducks
  33. Coppersmith barbet
  34. Grey Shrike
  35. Bay backed shrike
  36. Wood Shrike
  37. Asian fairy Bluebird-male and female
  38. Black Hooded Oriole
  39. Oriental Magpie Robin
  40. Hill Myna
  41. Orange Headed Thrush
  42. Spotted Dove
  43. Yellow-footed Green Pigeon
  44. Imperial Green Pigeon
  45. Pompadour Green Pigeon
  46. Blyth’s Starling
  47. Brahminy Starling
  48. Jungle Babbler
  49. Common Kingfisher
  50. Pied Kingfisher
  51. Stork-billed Kingfisher
  52. White throated Kingfisher
  53. Minivet- male and female
  54. Green Bee-Eater
  55. Chestnut Headed Bee-Eater
  56. Blue Cheeked Bee-Eater
  57. Grey Tit
  58. Red-Rumped Swallow
  59. Flowerpecker
  60. Indian Nutthatch
  61. Jungle Owlet
  62. Sunbirds
  63. Indian Coucal
  64. Jungle Fowl
  65. Red-wattled Lapwing
  66. Hoopoe

 

3 Comments on “THATTEKAD

  1. Pingback: Birds of Thattekad – gauricosmos

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